Aphorisms via Samuel Arthur Bent

Samuel Arthur Bent was an author, lawyer and editor of a delightful anthology of quotations called Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. First published in 1882, the book is arranged alphabetically by writer and is absolutely crammed with aphorisms, anecdotes and biographical tidbits. Bent even includes parallel lines, in which he lists similar sayings by other “great men.” Bent’s selections and editorial remarks can seem stodgy to the 21st century reader, but his brilliance, erudition and eccentricity are evident throughout. And despite the sexism of the title, Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men features plenty of female aphorists, such as Madame du Deffand, an 18th-century French wit, salon hostess, and friend of Voltaire and d’Alembert. Bent recounts the story of one Cardinal de Polignac, who described to Madame du Deffand the martyrdom of Saint Denis at Montmartre and how, after his decapitation, the freshly minted martyr walked all the way to the distant village where a cathedral was built in his name holding his severed head in his hands, whereupon Madame du Deffand replied:

The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that costs.

Bent also tells the story of a certain Sir Hercules who, when asked if he had polished off three bottles of port without assistance, replied: “Not quite: I had the assistance of a bottle of Madeira.” Bent died in 1912, after collapsing in the lobby of a Boston hotel. You can download his obituary from the New YorkTimes. Some sayings via Bent to keep you on the straight and narrow:

Religion converts despair, which destroys, into resignation, which submits. —Lady Blessington

Go on, and the light will come to you. —Jean D’Alembert

Flowers are the sweetest things that God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into. —Henry Ward Beecher

So order your affairs as if you were to live long, or die soon. —Bias

Be old when young, that you may be young when old. —Richard Whately